The term “innovation” is used in many contexts, but in the expanding digital world and economic necessities, it has become synonymous with the financial and banking industries. Sohar International has reached the pinnacle of innovation for their clients. They are committed to providing excellent service to their customers and exceeding their expectations. In addition to innovation, it has mastered the art of profit management. In an interview with World Economic Magazine, Mr. Ahmed Al Musalmi, Chief Executive Officer of Sohar International, stated his views on the subject.

Congratulations on winning the prestigious awards – “Most Improved Bank in Profitability Management Oman 2021” and “Most Innovative Bank Oman 2021”. What actions do you think were instrumental in your success?

Thank you for the award titles and we are truly honored to have received them. I strongly believe that such awards are a testament to the strengths and efforts of a well-qualified and determined team. Bringing a truly international experience to Oman’s maturing customers requires a strong capable and competent team that not only understands current market demands, but foresees perception shifts and evolving needs. At Sohar International, the passion and commitment of its people drives the bank’s growth strategy. While being a customer-centric offering innovative products and services that reserve the necessary flexibility to suit the varying needs of its clientele, the bank also finds creative ways to invest in its employees who play a fundamental role in how operations are managed. Moreover, our innovative solutions are devised keeping our customers’ best interests in mind while ensuring that we have conducted a thorough market analysis to understand the potential risks and opportunities. This has been instrumental in helping us achieve a steady rise in growth and profitability as well as gaining support of our customers and trust of our stakeholders. These factors are underlined by our leadership in providing premium banking and a strategic road-map that puts digital transformation and unmatched business acumen at the heart of all of the Bank’s operations. Such a cohesive environment is a winning combination that continues to bring success to the Bank.

As a financial institution, what challenges did Sohar International face in order to become the “Most Improved Bank in Profitability Management”?

Global economies witnessed significant headwinds in the past 2 years however banks globally reflected resilience with high capital and liquidity positions pre-pandemic, which was ably backed by flexible policy support from central banks. However, the banking industry’s profitability was severely hit and continued to be a challenge with concerns of rising non-performing assets. There have been a lot of factors that have been responsible for the sectoral de-growth, including a deteriorated operating environment, increased credit risk, tight market liquidity, amongst many others. In a low oil price environment, Sohar International too had its share of these challenges. However, I believe that the past 2 years have been an extraordinary learning journey for Sohar International and have tested our strategy.  The strategy set forth has helped guide us in making investment choices and adapt to changes and transform challenges to opportunities.  Accordingly, there have been significant investments made on part of the bank in its people, processes, technology , and products, which have all resulted in positive outcomes enabling us to navigate better and come out stronger.  Whilst focusing on such key areas and carving out a niche in the market, we have managed to stay relevant to our customers providing them with the services beyond banking. Being customer-centric has been among the keys to improving profitability.

How important do you believe it is for a bank to be digitally sound in order to meet the needs of its customers? 

Innovation has been intrinsic to our ongoing success, growth and development. Whether it is through developing new products and services, embracing the latest digital technologies or finding innovative ways to reach out and service our customers better.  The bank is driven by a strong and all-pervasive digital transformation strategy. In line with Oman Vision 2040, Sohar International has leveraged technological advancements to innovate its processes, introduce new products and increase customer engagement, ensuring highest levels of security in all banking platforms and transactions. Owing to its digital capabilities, the bank has been able to improve its operational efficiency even during COVID-19 as it continued to support customers during times of crisis. In fact, our investments into developing a new, enhanced version of the mobile app as well as other digital touch-points are a testament to this approach. We continue to capitalize on such contactless banking services, which have proven to add value to the customer’s winning journey with us.

Maintaining this momentum, with a successful remote working strategy across all departments, Sohar International has been able to record an increase in all performance indicators whilst demonstrating an unfaltering commitment towards servicing customers. A progressive, transformative culture has put the bank in a leading position within the banking arena in the Sultanate.

When it comes to a country’s economic growth, it is essential to support small and medium-sized businesses. Could you please tell us about Sohar International’s strategies for assisting SMEs in achieving success?

An important aspect of nurturing a thriving ecosystem for Small and Medium Enterprises is to provide them with timely access to affordable credit. Sohar International has consciously ensured access to credit, providing the required impetus to SME development in the Sultanate. Moreover, the primary focus of Sohar International’s SME Unit has been to handhold enterprises from the SME Sector as a trusted advisor. The Bank’s SME Unit played a vital role to foster nascent industrial clusters in Oman and it has emerged as a trusted guide, continuing to focus its vision on following the Government’s directives in diversifying from an oil dependent economy and helping unlock the potential of the SME sector. The SME Unit is positioned as a knowledge partner, providing total business solutions and advisory to budding entrepreneurs, and introduce SMEs to entry level risk management by educating them on early warning signs. Promoting the ‘One Bank Approach’ to ensure cross-selling of products has been another key aspect to further assist them financially. As such, SME desks have been functioning in all of the Bank’s branches.

Additionally, with businesses in lockdown for most parts of the last 2 years, Sohar International also ensured that SMEs were provided with relief measures to minimize their financial burden. In 2020, the bank introduced an exclusive Mobile Banking Service for SMEs (Sole proprietorship companies) which was received well in the market.

What are the long-term development objectives of Sohar International? What new initiatives do you believe will be required over the next five years?

We believe that Oman is on a fast trajectory to grow into a thriving business and investment hub as it progresses towards the goals laid down in its Vision 2040. Accordingly, Sohar International’s long-term approach is aimed at achieving excellence, setting the organization on a sustainable growth path, thereby contributing to the national economy aligning to the Sultanate’s goals. This will be based on steadfast resilience and the ability to nurture a sustainable operating economic environment. It will now be critical more than ever for banks to work together with regulators to safely transform business models to be as digitally-enabled as today’s digital-savvy audiences while remaining operationally resilient throughout. 

Would you like to add any closing statements? 

At Sohar International, we are driven and inspired by a vision to become a world-class Omani service company that helps customers, community and people to prosper and grow. We have received a number of awards and accolades that are a testament to the effectiveness of our growth strategy. Like every win at Sohar International, these accolades will serve as an impetus for us to achieve greater milestones, set new benchmarks and lead the way in the banking sector.

Moving ahead Sohar International remains committed to its promise of providing responsive and responsible services for the customer’s ever-changing world. While digitalization will underpin all of the bank’s initiatives and efforts, a strong people interface will be equally important. This means we will expand our market coverage across the length and breadth of the Sultanate, create more opportunities for youth skill development as well as employment.

Sohar International is confident about Oman’s steady growth under the visionary leadership of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik. The new five-year rolling plan will bring in new products in sync with changing customer needs, enhanced service standards and technological adoption. The Bank will set new benchmarks as a thought leader and an institution with a social conscience by promoting growth opportunities for young Omanis and contributing to the society at large. Sohar International will work closely with regulatory authorities to lead the banking sector in Oman as the sector continues to play a complimentary role contributing towards Oman Vision 2040.

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